City seeks new police oversight committee
Panel would promote community-officer links
The Baltimore City Council is petitioning state lawmakers to create an oversight panel to steer Baltimore’s community policing efforts.
City Councilman Brandon M. Scott introduced a resolution at Monday’s City Council meeting asking the General Assembly to authorize the committee to annually evaluate the relationship between the police and Baltimore residents and develop a strategy to engage the public. It passed unanimously.
Police need a calculated approach to interacting with the community, with plans catered to individual neighborhoods, Scott said.
“How are our officers going to engage with young people, at rec centers, on street corners, without a 911 call being involved?” Scott said. “This is part of their work.”
Del. Antonio L. Hayes, a Baltimore Democrat, is expected to file legislation to create the panel when the General Assembly convenes in January.
“This could create a link between communities and the Police Department,” Hayes said. “Right now, there is a lot of lip service around community policing. Hopefully, this will provide something more sustainable.”
Hayes said other jurisdictions around the country have created similar boards. He plans to spend the coming months working to build support for the proposal.
Creating such a committee would require state action because the City Council does not have the authority to do so. The bill would allow the city to create the committee, and the council would decide how it would function.
Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the department would work with the council as legislative efforts proceed. “We are always supportive of new opportunities to engage the community,” Smith said.
Scott envisions the panel being made up of about 20 people. He wants one member of the public from each of the Police Department’s nine districts, a public housing resident, a youth representative, the police commissioner and multiple elected officials or their designees.
The committee would issue a report every November outlining ways for police to create consistently positive interactions between officers and community members, Scott said. Officers, he said, could be required to participate in neighborhood events and interact with schoolchildren, African-Americans, exoffenders and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Scott said creating the committee could build on actions the Police Department will be taking to repair relationships after the recent release of the U.S. Department of Justice report on Baltimore policing. The report concluded that city police routinely violated people’s civil rights through discrimination, excessive use of force and other actions.
Creating the steering committee would protect the efforts from future commissioners who might want to abandon community policing, Scott said.
“Agencies are responsible for what they’re held accountable for, and right now they’re not held accountable for community engagement,” Scott said. “We need to push the envelop a little further. Our city will be much greater for it.”